From September 8 to 12, I was in London. The flight connecting from Kuala Lumpur to Heathrow, London was delayed for a good 14 hours and me and another presenter, Sonja, were sent to a hotel by heavy loaded buses. But that was the only thing that I hated about my trip, and that hotel turned out to be a luxurious one anyway.
On the night of the 11th, two of my co-presenters and I went to see Billy Elliot the Musical. The boys were cute, the dancers did a pretty good job, and I loved the ballet teacher and the particular accents the actors had (due to which, unfortunately, I probably understood as little as 50–60% of what they were saying, though).
But towards the end of the story, I found myself having to wipe my tears off my cheeks because I was too sad. I was sad not because the story was touching. I was sad because I realized that I was that Billy boy, of course metaphorically. I’m not as cute or talented as Billy, but we have so much in common in terms of upward mobility.
Going through his coming-of-age, his life largely revolves around the fact that he wants to dance. That’s fine. But the dilemma on his family’s part only resolves at their understanding of his will to continue dancing. The money the ballet school costs, the needed separation of the son from his family, the lives of local people left behind by Billy and remaining the same old routine… they are all compromised and made into minor issues compared to the promising child’s bright future.
It struck me when the ballet teacher told Billy’s father that he should support Billy because he’s talented and has got a future. Good things keep piling up and he successfully gathers up the money for tuition. I don’t know if Billy is going to repay him (and the laborers who contributed) after he develops his dancing career. He probably will. But it’s not only money that is invested in his career. It’s more about the time they would have spent together if he had stayed home, the working-class culture they would have shared, and the future that his father would have envisioned for himself.
I have a mixed feeling regarding Billy’s upward mobility. Just because one is talented doesn’t mean he will be successful. There are tons of things that get to be sacrificed for the sake of his (possible, sometimes scarcely promised) success. And Billy gets to have everyone join the Support Little Billy club.
What irritates me is, ultimately, that I am also that boy who gets support from a formerly working-class family. The investment in my future is massive (not only financially). For one thing, my life has been violence-free unlike the lives of other members of my family. And it’s not a natural consequence of the change of times, but is utterly artificial — — someone had to work hard to stop violence. And watching Billy Elliot got me thinking about how I would/could repay them.
I am working towards a Ph.D. degree. That will take at least 6–7 more years. And after Ph.D., when am I going to get a full-time job that pays me well enough for me to support my family PLUS repay them? But if I give up on my academic career at this point (or at least after the M.A.), what good will that do? Our family (mother, grandmother, and me) depends on my mother’s income only, and even if I get a job and start earning some dough, she won’t be able to quit her job. She’s got a mortgage loan that will last until 24 years later. I am more than willing to pay about half of it, meaning I will have to get a good-paying job in 12 years. I see that’s possible, despite the scarcity of academic positions (or am I too optimistic?). Only then can she quit her job and go back to school. Yes, she wants to go back to school. She wants to study abroad. There’s no way she can go abroad and study for even 3 months without quitting her job. So when she does go abroad, she needs to quit it.
And…, when am I going to be ready to let her do that? It’s now (or soon), if I decide to seriously look for jobs that pay me well. It’s next year, if I decide to stop developing my academic career after the M.A. It’s within a 6–7 (or more) years time, if I decide to stick to my goals. I am still not sure because — — what about her goals? She sacrificed her teen years for her parents’ sake. She sacrificed her adulthood to date for her ex-husbands, kids, and parents. The three options above basically boil down to: “how long and how much more do I make my mother sacrifice?” In 10 years, she won’t be young.
My grandmother often says she devoted her whole self to her harsh and demanding parents. My mother’s life was similar, but in different ways. I’m the only one that, say, got exempted from that chain of child sacrifice. I’m not going to have children; so the chain will be cut eventually. But why am I enjoying the cut one generation ahead? Can’t even imagine what it took my mother to cut the chain (of poverty, violence, etc.) for my sake. Why did she have to do that? Why is she the last person to suffer? Why am I in graduate school? Why did she have to ascend to a high position at work? Why does she happen to be queer-friendly? Why? Why? Why?
I am Billy Elliot. He represents what I hate about myself. He represents the sacrifices my mother’s made. He represents her decision to disinherit me of the family legacy of violence and poverty. It utterly hurts. It hurts that my relative freedom stems from the pains on my mother’s part. But I am not brave enough to do anything to change things at the moment.